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11.11.09

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Phaedra

Photograph by Sandor Nagyszalanczy
Rhythm and Buckets: 'Jugtown U.S.A.' gets down over yonder this Friday.

Stop In The Name of Jug

Ukulele Dick strikes again--this time with a jug band tribute to Motown.

By Austin Sardella


RICK MCKEE, better known as Ukulele Dick, has made his mark on Santa Cruz in myriad ways, most recently as the creative force behind the White Album Ensemble, a Beatles tribute band known for its album-length concerts. We spoke with McKee about Motown, writing music and his upcoming show, "Jugtown U.S.A.," a performance of Motown standards--what local funny man and guest performer Sven Davis calls "the music we mated to"--performed on washtub bass and other jug band instruments.

How did 'Jugtown U.S.A.' come about?
2009 is the 50th anniversary of Motown [Records], so we're celebrating that. It started with my own personal experience with the style. I'm a baby boomer, and by the time I hit puberty, Motown was everywhere. So when I was a post-adolescent, cruising around and trying to pick up girls, that was what I'd play in the car.

There was a song called "My Girl," and I recently played the bass line on the jug and thought it sounded good. Mostly, putting Jugtown U.S.A. together was a matter of finding people who could do it.

What are some songs you'll play?
We're doing a Supremes medley--"Where Did Our Love Go?," "Stop in the Name of Love," and "My World Is Empty Without You, Babe." We're doing "Please Mr. Postman"--the Beatles covered that. California Raisins--"We Heard It Through the Grapevine." But I don't want to give them all away.

The show is a musical revue, which is like musical theatre. They take a bunch of songs, put them together and use a narrator. Our narrator will be Sven Davis, who does a lot with Planet Cruz Comedy Hour.

What instruments do you play?
The ukulele, of course. I also play the guitar, the banjo and the piano, mostly for songwriting. I never studied music. In the upcoming show I'm also playing the jug, the beer-o-phone, xylophone, some guitar, harmonica and lots of kazoo. In the show there will be a lot of horn parts, and we're playing those with kazoos. We're doing a Jr. Walker and the All-Stars song with a saxophone solo that's a mind-blower on the kazoo.

One of the instruments we're using in the show is a washtub bass--you turn a bucket upside down, stick a broomstick on top and run a string from the bucket to the top of the broomstick. We gave one to our bassist Matt Bohn and he came back a few days later with it turned sideways, decked out with mirrors and hubcaps. It's very backwoods Motor City.

You seem to have an eclectic taste in musical instruments. What draws you to an instrument?
First and foremost, affordability. Back in the '20s, people couldn't afford instruments, but they still needed to play music. We're doing Motown instruments anyone can afford. When I was a kid, I just picked up anything I could play with and jammed. What drew me to the guitar as a teenager was the need to get laid. It's a sexy instrument, and cheap.


JUGTOWN U.S.A., with Sven Davis and Paul Wagner (Santa Cruz Weekly calendar editor), plays Friday, Nov. 13, at 8pm at Don Quixote's, 6275 Hwy. 9, Felton. Tickets $15 advance/$20 door. (831.603.2294.)


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